A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Apropos of the No Eggs! Cockerel Complex! whimpers that populated my previous post, Thalia comments:

Um. I assume you did either chemistry or biology o-level. And if you remember back to those days you’ll remember that UNITS are very important. And now if I tell you that UK measurements of E2 are made in pmol/litre and US units (and the charts which show normal levels) are shown in pg/ml, you’ll hopefully start to blush a little, then feel relieved. Divide 94 by 3.67 (see here http://www.globalrph.com/conv_si.htm) and you’ll get your actual level according to this chart (http://www.fertilityplus.org/faq/hormonelevels.html#female). 94/3.67=25.6 or NORMAL.

Now stop worrying. hahahahaha

Brains. The lovely lady haz dem in spades! And also, bloody Americans! If you hadn’t gone and DONE stuff back in 1775, and become this whole swanky World Power thing, we’d all be singing together uproariously from the same scientific hymn sheet right now – and I wouldn’t have had a sleepless night.

All this is precisely why Doctors cry and hammer their heads into the desk when their patients confidently pipe up with their self-diagnoses of beri-beri, leprosy or galloping dandruff. Although, they can’t entirely blame the phenomenon of internet…

Jerome K Jerome: Three Men In A Boat. Published 1889.

THERE were four of us – George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were – bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it. Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of giddiness come over him at times, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that HE had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what HE was doing. With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, because I had just been reading a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.

It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.

I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class! Students would have no need to “walk the hospitals,” if they had me. I was a hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma. 

Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I have since been induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all the time, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it. I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back. But I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine it with the other. I could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.

I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.

I went to my medical man. He is an old chum of mine, and feels my pulse, and looks at my tongue, and talks about the weather, all for nothing, when I fancy I’m ill; so I thought I would do him a good turn by going to him now. “What a doctor wants,” I said, “is practice. He shall have me. He will get more practice out of me than out of seventeen hundred of your ordinary, commonplace patients, with only one or two diseases each.” So I went straight up and saw him, and he said:

“Well, what’s the matter with you?”

I said:

“I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is NOT the matter with me. I have not got housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I HAVE got.”

And I told him how I came to discover it all.

Then he opened me and looked down me, and clutched hold of my wrist, and then he hit me over the chest when I wasn’t expecting it – a cowardly thing to do, I call it – and immediately afterwards butted me with the side of his head. After that, he sat down and wrote out a prescription, and folded it up and gave it me, and I put it in my pocket and went out.

I did not open it. I took it to the nearest chemist’s, and handed it in. The man read it, and then handed it back.

He said he didn’t keep it.

I said:

“You are a chemist?”

He said:

“I am a chemist. If I was a co-operative stores and family hotel combined, I might be able to oblige you. Being only a chemist hampers me.”

I read the prescription. It ran:

“1 lb. beefsteak, with
1 pt. bitter beer
every 6 hours.
1 ten-mile walk every morning.
1 bed at 11 sharp every night.
And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.”

I followed the directions, with the happy result – speaking for myself – that my life was preserved, and is still going on.

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7 Responses

  1. That made me smile thank you.

  2. congratulations, fellow history nerd, on your now-good results:)

  3. I read the prescription and find it irksome that there are no greens.

  4. “feeling seedy” – I don’t hear that often enough. Wonderful.

  5. I did wonder about units….

    Since I can never remember how to convert to American, I always check for the patient in question if their number is within the normal reference range that is always in brackets next to the number in the results.

    Sometimes I ring the lab and make the day of a very bored scientist.

    I love reference ranges. Wonderful things. Also, they give precious units so one knows for sure the apples ain’t oranges.

    g

  6. I’ve been trying to fill that prescription since I first read it many years ago. And I can never manage the bed by 11pm or the unclutterng of the head cluttered with stuff I clearly don’t understand. Or need.

    The next suburb over from us is Montmorency. And I always think of Three Men In a Boat when I see a sign pointing me in its direction.

  7. […] a white horse to rescue me from the corner of Science Stupidity I’d painted myself into. Not the first time the lady has kindly extracted me from there, […]

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